I've been home from Berlin for a few days - time to let ideas simmer. Even so I still don't have a coherent view of the city - but I'm not sure there is one.
A disclaimer to begin with - the weather was lovely; and so, given a choice between learned museums and sitting in the sunshine with a beer, well, I'm sorry but the beer won. I also spent hours walking in streets, generally poking my nose into corners. I did the open-top bus thing, and the river trip - but passed on the ancient-ruin museums, even though I know they have precious collections. (I did go to a couple of art galleries, which were wonderful).
And I did some thinking. Freud told us that are all shaped by our histories - both personal and collective. Reflections on my travels suggest cities fit into the same construct. Berlin is no exception.
Berlin's recent history (by recent I mean the last hundred years) is well known and terrible. There is no hiding from the terrors. The city was devastated by the war: rebuilding has been slow, and without avoiding taking responsibility for the bloodshed. The Memorial to the Holocaust is respectful but still shocking even though no secret any more. The years of division echo in the concrete apartment blocks on what was the East Side - though many have been repainted and balconies added so they don't have the run-down, mildewed look of their counterparts in Havana.
The Wall came down in 1989. The city has had twenty-five years to knit itself back together - and continue to acknowledge its past. There are still differences between West and East (there are trams in the East), but they are blurred now. Restaurants proliferate on both sides. Museums cover the history of the whole city.
I searched for evidence of Berlin's piecing together. Someone told me that, just as the Wall had gone up brick by brick, then that's how it had to come down - and how Berliners had to step into their future. Tentatively, curiously, and now with enthusiasm and energy, the city wonders if it dares be proud of itself. Or would that upset those still traumatised by the Holocaust?
It's vibrant, and gusty, and wondering if it is time to be celebrate its recovering or should still be hanging its head in shame for the past.
Maybe it will take much longer for Berlin to get that 'right.' There will always be those who need, for reasons of their own, to see the city self-flagellate. While there are others who are eager to cheer her modernity.
What I took away is a conviction that great divisions can only mend if we listen and talk to each other. There have been ups and downs but Germany has come together without fisticuffs. Which is why it seems important to learn from them. How have they done it? And what can they teach other countries that seem intent on tearing themselves apart?
Answers on a postcard to those struggling with the mayhem in Iraq ...